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Davis v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

January 13, 2020


          Warren, Justice.

         Carlton Davis was convicted of felony murder in connection with the death of Lakeitha Sims.[1] On appeal, Davis argues that the trial court erred by admitting a statement he made to a detective that Davis contends he did not freely and voluntarily make; that the trial court erred by improperly admitting into evidence a letter that Davis contends violated his reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment; and that Davis's due process rights were violated because of the 14-year delay between Davis's jury verdict and the trial court's denial of his motion for new trial. For the reasons that follow, we disagree and affirm the trial court's denial of Davis's motion for new trial.

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the evidence presented at Davis's trial showed that on the evening of August 16, 2003, Davis was at Sims's mobile home with Sims and Emanuel Tillman. Davis and Tillman were living with Sims, and Davis and Sims were involved in a romantic relationship.

         On the evening of August 16, Davis and Sims "got into an argument over how the furniture was moved around" in the living room. At some point after the argument, Davis and Tillman went to a gas station to buy "a few beers." After returning from the gas station, both men began drinking and smoking marijuana in a car outside of Sims's home. When "it was starting to get dark out," Davis went inside. Tillman stayed in the car "listening to music" and "drinking" and eventually fell asleep.

         At some point later that night, Davis came back outside, woke Tillman up, and said that "someone was coming looking for" them. Davis was "in a rush," and he and Tillman went inside, packed their bags, and drove to the nearby mobile home of Lisette Rodriquez around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.[2] When Davis and Tillman entered Rodriquez's home, Rodriquez was not there but two other people were. Tillman "looked like he [had seen] a ghost" and Davis "was acting . . . edgy" and "pacing the floor back and forth." Davis said that he and Tillman had gotten into an argument at a nightclub in Savannah a few weeks prior with a man called "TKO" and that TKO was now coming after Davis and Tillman.[3] Davis said that he and Tillman were fleeing to Chicago, where Davis was originally from, and that he needed to get in touch with Rodriquez in order to retrieve some money she owed him for a television he gave to her. After talking to Rodriquez by phone, Davis left to pick up Rodriquez from a Holiday Inn, where she was with a friend after work, and Rodriquez gave Davis the money he requested and filled his car with gas. Tillman stayed behind at Rodriquez's house. At this point, it was "[c]lose to 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, still dark." Davis told Rodriquez that there were men "chasing" him and Tillman before he left to pick up Tillman from Rodriquez's home. Davis and Tillman then drove to Chicago, arriving around 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. that evening.

         Later that morning, Sims's mother, Delores, called Sims after not receiving a call from her daughter. Sims and her mother were close and talked on the phone every day, and Sims had made plans to bring her three-month old daughter to visit Delores that weekend. Delores grew concerned when her repeated calls to Sims went unanswered. Finally, after a day and a half of unanswered phone calls, Delores decided to drive to Sims's home to check on her daughter, bringing her nephew along with her. When they arrived at Sims's home, they saw Sims's car in the yard and Sims's pocketbook in the front seat of her car. After unsuccessfully calling for Sims and knocking on her door, Delores called the police. A police officer came by the house but eventually left. Finally, Delores's nephew was able to enter the house through a back window and let Delores in the home. Inside, Delores found Sims's daughter on the bedroom floor crying, and Delores's nephew found Sims's body in the bathroom "laying over the tub." They called the police, and the paramedics and police arrived on the scene shortly thereafter.

         Davis was arrested on September 13, 2003, and eventually indicted for malice murder and felony murder. At trial, the paramedic who responded to the scene testified that he found Sims's body in the bathroom. Sims was "knelt down, bent over into the bathtub" and had "obvious rigor mortis," meaning that "she had been dead for a while in order for her body to be stiff."

         The detective, who was the primary investigator on the case, testified that Sims was "laying across the bathtub with her head into the bathtub laying down." He also testified that he noticed "some blood" "down by her face" when he "looked into the bathtub." Although there were no signs of struggle elsewhere in the house, the detective sealed the crime scene.

         The medical examiner testified that Sims had abrasions on the back of her left shoulder, her knees, and the top of the foot at her ankle. Although the medical examiner testified that there were no "significant areas of abrasion" or "remarkable external injuries" to Sims's neck area, Sims did suffer internal neck injuries, multiple abrasions to her face and lips, a "large area of hemorrhage" in both eyes, and a "bloody-mucussy discharge coming from the nose." The medical examiner ultimately concluded that Sims "died as a result of manual strangulation with multiple perimortem blunt force [injuries]" and that her manner of death was homicide.

         At trial, Davis testified in his own defense. He testified that on the evening of August 16, he and Sims were arguing because he was planning to leave because TKO was after him and "the relationship wasn't working really to a point." He remembered arguing but could not remember how the argument "escalated" or what "exactly . . . happened." He denied ever meaning to harm or kill Sims that night and said he "never meant for anything - nothing like this to happen."

         Davis does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence. Nevertheless, consistent with this Court's practice in murder cases, we have reviewed the record and conclude that, when viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Davis was guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-319 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2. Davis contends that the trial court erred by admitting into evidence the second statement Davis made to a detective because that statement was not freely and voluntarily made. We disagree.[4]

         During the course of the investigation into Sims's death, Hinesville Police Department Detective Tracy Howard and another detective traveled to Chicago to locate and interview Davis and Tillman. On September 13, 2003, with the assistance of local police, Detective Howard located the men in Matteson, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. Detective Howard asked Davis if "he would agree to go" with him to talk about "this particular investigation" at the Country Club Hills Police Department. Davis agreed and followed the detectives in his own vehicle. The detectives asked that "Tillman, if he would agree to it, ride with [the detectives] in [their] vehicle just to prevent any conversation between . . . Tillman and . . . Davis regarding any type of questioning that . . . may occur." Davis was not under arrest at this time, and charges were not pending against him.

         Detective Howard then interviewed Davis in an interview room at the Country Club Hills Police Department. The room was "boxed in shape" with a table "against the wall and pretty much . . . in the middle of [the] room." Davis and Detective Howard were sitting at the table, with Detective Howard seated on the side closest to the door. Prior to interviewing Davis, Detective Howard advised Davis that he was not in custody and also advised Davis of the Miranda[5]warnings. Davis indicated that he understood his rights, initialed and signed the waiver form, and agreed to speak with Detective Howard. After Davis and Detective Howard talked for a ...

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